Utilizing interns: more than busy work

Posted November 14, 2016 by

Intern can do more than busy work

Contributing writer Ted Bauer

Companies of all sizes frequently hire interns, but the approach to thinking about these interns is usually a little bit misguided. Because interns often represent either entirely free or very cheap (relative to full-time hires) labor, they can become factories of busy work — essentially doing work that others (i.e. full-time employees) either don’t have the time for or, in all honesty, don’t want to do.

While there’s some logic in assigning the pointless busy work to the cheapest labor source, it’s also a bad strategic play both in the short-term and long-term. Here are two major reasons why.

“Busy” vs. “productive.” Admittedly, there are many professionals — way above the intern level — who don’t completely understand this designation. And admittedly, not all work at a job can be productive. There is always logistically-driven, spreadsheet-updating, “busy” or “shallow” work to be done. But you need to think about the psychology of the intern experience, as opposed to simply the cost model. In many cases, this is an intern’s first experience with office work — or among their first. If all they do is busy work, they certainly won’t feel very motivated by your company or that specific department. (More on why this is a problem in the next section.) While we wouldn’t necessarily condone giving interns access to proprietary information or letting them set high-level strategy, they can attend some larger scope meetings to learn about how the different pieces of your organization and business model work together. Yes, they might get coffee for people or archive documents digitally from years ago. That’s fine. But there needs to be a mix of straight busy work and some productive work, including opportunities to learn about how the company works, how it generates revenue, and what the different roles do in support of that.

The value of internal recruitment: Let’s assume we are discussing summer interns for the time being, as that’s a fairly common intern time frame and model. A college summer intern who performs well could become a full-time hire when he/she finishes college. Research has shown internal recruitment (i.e. promotions) to be valuable, and the same methodology works for intern conversion. Organizations are usually set up in specific, clearly-defined ways around process and reporting. An intern who was given a summer of busy work + productive meeting attendance already understands those processes and reporting structures. When he/she enters the company, it’s much closer to a “hit the ground running” situation than recruiting someone from a different college who never interned with you. That latter hire may end up being a superstar, yes, but in the first few months, they will be much less productive than a converted intern. Also remember this about the value of interns: because they have less work experience, they haven’t been exposed to numerous approaches to work. You can more easily ground them in your culture, roles, and expectations than you can with even a mid-career professional you poached from a competitor.

Additionally, college recruitment should regularly be part of a company’s diversity recruitment strategy — precisely because the organization can start a diverse pipeline to upper management. Diversifying the workplace, which is a common goal of most orgs, begins with diversifying the intern pool and then converting those interns into FT employees.

One of the clearest paths to intern conversion is two-fold:

  • Have a strong employer brand that will resonate with young people
  • Know what success looks like in an intern role so you know whom to attempt to convert to full-time

On Thursday, December 8th at Union Station in DC, we’ll be hosting a College Recruiter Bootcamp Conference. At 1:15pm, Susan LaMotte (the CEO of exaqueo) will lead a panel on marketing your company to Gen Y and Gen Z (the next generations to enter the workplace, behind the millennials). After the topical presentation, Susan will moderate a discussion on the same topic including:

  • Panelist: Allison Lane, Director, Corporate Marketing and Communications, The Bozzuto Group
  • Panelist: Jessica Steinberg, Director, Global Talent Brand, CDK

The registration cost is $98 per person and includes all seminars/panels (you can see the other ones at the top link), continental breakfast, Union Station tour, and lunch.

In fact, the Dec. 8th event will be at the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) offices in Union Station. They have a great intern conversion ratio, so we reached out to them for ideas around it and  to get a sneak peek at what you might learn on Dec. 8. They told us:

The process is more organic.  Internships are working interviews and the interns who exhibit the ability to produce, takes pride in their work products and the mission of the SEC and perform really well are in a better position to compete for full-time opportunities. 3Ls/Judicial Law Clerks (current & pending)/Legal Fellows can apply to our Chairs Attorney Honors program (a highly competitive and prestigious entry level attorney hiring program) and our Business Students have the opportunity to apply to any Pathways or full-time opportunity that best fits their skill sets.”

“Working interviews” is a great attitude.

We’d love to see you on December 8th in the SEC’s home. There are also panels on ROI and metrics around the recruiting space, so by attending both, you can have a more holistic picture of intern conversion and its benefits. Register today at www.exaqueoevents.com/register

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